NZ anti-whaling activist faces verdict in Japan
Tokyo: A New Zealand anti-whaling activist on trial for charges relating to clashes with Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters was due Wednesday to hear the verdict, with prosecutors demanding two years` jail.
Peter Bethune, 45, an activist with the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, is accused of injuring a whaler by hurling a rancid butter stink bomb and also faces four other charges.
Bethune pleaded guilty to obstructing commercial activities and charges stemming from his scaling of a Japanese harpoon ship -- trespass, vandalism and carrying a knife, which he used to cut the ship`s security netting.
But he denied the charge of assault, in which prosecutors say a 24-year-old whaler suffered chemical splash burns to his face during a February 11 confrontation when Sea Shepherd activists hurled the butyric acid stink bombs.
"I did not have the intention of hurting crew members. I took action because I wanted to stop Japan`s illegal whaling," Bethune said in his final statement last month, which he tearfully delivered in Japanese.
Japan hunts whales under a loophole in an international moratorium that allows killing of the ocean giants for what it calls "scientific research", although the meat is later sold openly in shops and restaurants.
The Sea Shepherd group has pursued and harassed Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters for years -- most recently in the 2009-2010 season, a campaign which both sides say reduced the Japanese cull by several hundred whales.
In their annual clashes, the adversaries regularly trade icy jets from water cannon, while the environmentalists also hurl blood-red paint containers.
The New Zealander was captain of the group`s futuristic carbon-and-kevlar powerboat, the trimaran Ady Gil, which sank after a January 6 collision with the Japanese fleet`s security ship the Shonan Maru II.
On February 15 Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru II from a jet ski before dawn, with the stated intent of making a citizen`s arrest of its captain and presenting him with a three-million-dollar bill for the Ady Gill.
Instead, he was detained and taken back to Japan, where he was formally arrested on March 12 and has been in detention since.
The Japanese coastguard has also filed a request with Interpol to place the Sea Shepherd`s Canadian founder Paul Watson on its international wanted list, on charges of instructing Bethune to interfere with Japanese whaling.
The group has said Bethune would not join its future actions after taking a bow and arrows aboard a ship on the latest high-seas campaign, contrary to Sea Shepherd`s stance of "aggressive but non-violent direct action".
Bethune maintained his opposition to whaling in his last court statement.
"Japan says it is conducting research whaling, but it is conducting commercial whaling that is prohibited, and many countries in the world acknowledge that," he told the court.
"Whaling is cruel... And the whales are immediately processed on the Nisshin Maru, and the meat turns up as food in Japan."
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